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Capsule Reviews (June 2006)

Action in the North Atlantic (1941) Lloyd Bacon

Lloyd Bacon's last film for Warner Bros was this wartime yarn about a tanker heading east in wartime. Raymond Massey is the captain and Humphrey Bogart is the first mate. There's even Germans speaking German in the U-boat that's trying to sink it. And they do too, just like in the beginning of The Land That Time Forgot, except there aren't any dinosaurs in this one. The survivors spend eleven days on a raft before being rescued, only to ship back out on a new boat. This time it's a Liberty ship called the Seawitch who is part of a 73 ship convoy heading from Halifax to Murmansk. Naturally they run into a wolfpack and adventure ensues.

It's an untold hero story. The merchant marines didn't do a lot of hand to hand fighting in trenches right up against the enemy, but they were responsible for keeping the supply chain open and working. Many of the cast work very well indeed as untold heroes. It's precisely what the Alan Hales of this world should be playing. Bogie is good, as always, and he's so rarely not that it's almost redundant to say so. Massey is solid and underplays the part wonderfully. Dane Clark is notable as a pain in the ass sailor who learns plenty during the two hour running time. Back home in brief parts are Julie Bishop and a young (only 45 years old!) Ruth Gordon. They're fine but undeservedly high in the credits. Then again with all the seemingly all-male war movies at this time, maybe a couple of female names were welcome diversions.

Lady and the Tramp (1955) Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske

Like everyone else on the planet, I've seen most of the Disney films from the early classics to the modern ones, but I haven't seen any oldies in a long while. I have problems with old Disneys because they were all musicals and just like real musicals, I usually wish they'd shut up singing and get on with the story. Maybe that's why I enjoyed The Emperor's New Groove so much: the only song came during the title sequence and that was a fun little number too.

This is my lass's favourite Disney, but while it definitely has its moments it's nowhere near mine. I like dogs but I'm far more of a cat person and cats in Lady and the Tramp are the bad guys. In fact they're not just bad, they're evil and stereotypically so as well. Si and Am, the twin siamese cats, are painful oriental stereotypes that for some reason Peggy Lee made to sound more like Mexicans. And they were originally called Nip and Tuck. Ouch. And that's before we get to Pedro the chihuahua. The only dog I could fall for here is Peg. Peggy Lee redeemed herself with Peg.

I enjoyed the colours more than the film. They reminded me of Tom and Jerry and all those old cartoons I grew up with. Computer animation rocks and hand drawn anime rocks too but I haven't seen colours like this in anything made any time during the last forty or fifty years.

There's also the Disney changing things problem. Trusty is supposed to die but old Walt just couldn't do it again after Bambi so added a cop out scene at the end.

The Impossible Kid (1982) Eddie Nicart

One inch taller than Verne Troyer aka Mini Me from the Austin Powers movies, 2' 9" Weng Weng is the world's shortest leading man. As Agent 00, he's an Interpol secret agent, he's a martial arts expert, he's a ladies' man, everything he'd need to be to be a midget James Bond.

This is really everything you'd expect it to be: a serious 1982 spy movie from the Phillipines starring a midget James Bond and produced by someone called Twinkle, or at least as serious as a film could be that rips off the Pink Panther theme tune. It's hilarious! Agent 00 has to fight terrorists, or as the KKK-hooded leader of them describes them on his self-destructing video message, 'a worldwide organisation with affiliations all over the world'. They are kidnapping industrialists for ransom but they hadn't counted on Agent 00 and his high flying martial arts skills. And don't forget, Agent 00 can conceal himself in the garbage bins used for the ransom drops, hide in the night by wearing a bright white shirt, leap out of money bags, jump off buildings onto terrorists dressed in drag, use bedsheets as a parachute, walk tightropes, leap ravines on a Pocket Rocket and hit a scary amount of bad guys in the nuts. He even has his own kick ass theme tune.

As a film this is a complete joke, but it's an unparalleled masterpiece of trash cinema.

Chaindance (1990) Allan A Goldstein

A Michael Ironside production, co-written by Michael Ironside, starring Michael Ironside. How could I go wrong? Especially as there's also Rae Dawn Chong and Brad Dourif as a cerebral palsy sufferer. And it's not a Hollywood thang. Definitely a must. The only downside is that the DVD is full screen and there's really no excuse for that nowadays.

It turns out to be a solid and original movie. Ironside is a career criminal back in the penitentiary for shooting up a police car. He is picked by Rae Dawn Chong of Social Services to take part in an experimental program where he gets chained to the wheelchair of a severely disabled patient at a nearby convalescent home. He doesn't want anything to do with it, of course, given that his patient is played by Brad Dourif with all the intensity you'd expect. Things get complicated further when he tangles with a fellow prisoner who effectively runs the show.

Allan Goldstein isn't the greatest director in the world and that's pretty obvious but he could have done a far worse job. The script is solid and it doesn't hold back, but it's the way that the cast take that script and run with it that makes the film such a success. Ironside and Dourif, two of my favourite B-movie actors who really shouldn't be B-movie actors, are simply awesome together. Both have far more depth than would be expected or realistically possible in most of the films either of them manage to be in. That depth here also extends to supporting characters and the situations they find themselves in. It's a powerful thing and people I don't really know like Bill Croft and Leslie Carlson are up to the task of building that power further.

Dourif and Ironside I've appreciated for a long time: Dourif since the days of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Sonny Boy and Wise Blood and Ironside from Scanners, Total Recall and V. Both of them have appeared in some really bad movies but even when the material is poor their performances are not. The only sad thing is that with the poor example of Soulkeeper, in which Dourif had a smaller role and Ironside an uncredited voiceover, this is the only film to feature both of them. I'd love to see them together in another movie.

Jeepers Creepers II (2003) Victor Salva

It's been a while since I saw Jeepers Creepers but it was a pretty decent modern horror movie, which makes it a rarity in itself. Hollywood generally doesn't get it any more: horror movies are either remakes of old classics that didn't remaking, remakes of modern oriental movies that didn't need an occidental translation or sequels to films that probably sucked to begin with. However there are odd exceptions, of which Saw and Final Destination spring to mind as the best examples. Jeepers Creepers wasn't up to that standard but it was pretty cool. Maybe it could beat the expectations of modern horror sequels.

Every 23 years for 23 days something comes out to feed. We join the film on day 22 to see a farmer lose his son to some freaky flying creature masquerading as a scarecrow. All that's left is a bizarre knife in his field. Then on day 23 a school bus carrying a winning high school basketball team loses a tyre, not once but twice, to some strange throwing star made of bone. The first time they sit and listen to the horrors being discovered in a burned out local church: three hundred or so stitched together corpses, some a couple of centuries old. The second time round the three adults get picked off one by one leaving all the kids trapped on the bus.

And all of this is handled very nicely indeed. It's not perfect, by any means, but it's tense and it's scary. The monster and its wings are really cool and the effects are very ably managed. There's not a lot of depth so I can't imagine coming back to it particularly often, but it was a great ride first time through.

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) Stephen Chow

It's really not easy to describe just what Stephen Chow does because you really need to see his work for yourself. The Police Super Crime Squad gets taken out by a bunch of gangsters. A minute or so later the gangsters are taken out by another group of gangsters. Axe carrying dancing gangsters. Then the Axe Gang gets into a fight in Pig Sty Alley where only the poor people live. Naturally the slew of gangsters get their ass handed to them by three unlikely working men. And then... well, watch it and see!

Chow mixes humour, sometimes very subtle intelligent humour and sometimes stylistically dumb slapstick, with superb special effects and a bizarre sense of style. Things happen in Stephen Chow movies that go beyond what you think people will do. There are fights here that will simply amaze you. And behind all the comedic insanity is a philosophy, just like thre should be in any martial arts movie.

Some of it just makes me wonder what is going to be out there in a few years time. I haven't felt that with American films for a long, long while, but outside of Hollywood there are still people doing incredible stuff that keeps moving the art of cinema forward and they don't seem to be bound by the same limits as everyone else. I'd add Stephen Chow to a list that includes people like Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai, Christopher Doyle and Jean Pierre Jeunet. Who in the US can compare to people like these? As well as Chow himself, there are scenes here directed by Sammo Hung; choreography by Yuen Woo Ping.

Shogun Assassin (1980) Robert Houston

I love this film. Made in Japan as a six film series, the Lone Wolf and Cub or Baby Cart series is renowned. Shogun Assassin is an American made film that reedited the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films into one, dubbed it and added a narration by the Cub and an electronic score. Usually this would be effective heresy, especially as at this time the originals were already eight years old, but as much as I like the originals I also like this one. The narration is surprisingly effective and the action comes twice as quickly.

Tomisaburo Wakayama is simply awesome and whoever dubbed him does a surprisingly good job. The swordfighting is powerful and the blood spurting justifies its legend. Nowadays other directors, most obviously Tarantino, have picked up this technique and it's not as groundbreaking as it once was. Back in 1972 it was something new, even for director Kenji Misumi who had directed a number of the better Zatoichi movies with Shintaro Katsu, including the first, The Tale of Zatoichi.

Getting Acquainted (1914) Charles Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin made 35 films in his debut year, 1914. He started it playing support for stars like Mabel Normand but ended it directing himself as arguably the most recognisable man in the world at the time, with stars like Mabel Normand playing support for him. Quite a year, huh? Well I've now seen most of these year one movies and haven't been particularly impressed with any of them. I fully realise that Chaplin was changing comedy at this point, but most of this stuff just isn't funny to me watching from 2006.

So the early stuff isn't funny but the later stuff is often hilarious. Logically there must be a point in between where I can laugh my head off at almost early stuff but I haven't found that point yet. Well now I have. This comes almost at the end of 1914 and it's notably better in almost every way than anything made earlier. The Chaplin genius really shines through, even though it's not yet fully polished.

His New Job (1915) Charles Chaplin

In 1915 Chaplin had made it to Essanay and his control over his own films was seriously increasing. This film marks his first actual credit! Charlie is trying to get a job and gets up to all sorts of hijinx in the casting office, including a great scuffle with Ben Turpin. Also somewhere in the cast is a young Gloria Swanson very early indeed in her career, though I didn't notice her.

In the 20 minutes I have in this cheap Charlie Chaplin box set from Brentwood, there are some moments of greatness but some slow parts too. What I don't have is the last ten minutes, which is more than a little annoying.

House of Flying Daggers (2004) Zhang Yimou

We're in ancient China and the House of Flying Daggers is a sort of Robin Hood organisation, fighting a corrupt government. Zhang Ziyi, beautiful and blind, is a spy working undercover in a high class brothel, but she is captured by government forces led by Andy Lau. Before she can be tortured, the threat of which has been made very apparent, she is broken out by romantic Takeshi Kaneshiro, and they escape into the forest. Not all, of course, is as it seems.

This really had a lot to live up to. Hero, quite apart from featuring many of my favourite cast and crew, was simply superb and very much warrants its place in the IMDb Top 250. I've long been an Andy Lau fan, from the days when I bought everything released on video in the UK by the Made in Hong Kong label, including Andy Lau films such as God of Gamblers, As Tears Go By, Moon Warriors and especially Days of Being Wild. He got even better in later years in films like Infernal Affairs and Fulltime Killer. I know Takeshi Kaneshiro too, from early appearances in The Heroic Trio II to Chungking Express and Returner. I'm still eager to see him in Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels. It's amazing how many of these great eastern actors get to play so often in Wong Kar Wai movies! And talking of which, Zhang Ziyi was in 2046, which I'm also eager to see, but was also in both Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

So is it any good? Yes. Is it better than Hero? No way, Jose. The music is great, the cinematography excellent (though not up to Christopher Doyle's standards), the plot solid, the acting fine, but Hero was stunning and this isn't. Admittedly I got to see it over two nights rather than one, but it impressed me merely as another excellent eastern movie with moments and scenes of the magic I had hoped for.

MirrorMask (2005) Dave McKean

It's not often that a film manages to look different. Even rarer is a film that looks different and yet remains an engrossing experience. This one manages it wonderfully. Then again when the writer is Neil Gaiman, creator of The Sandman, Neverwhere and Stardust, and the director is artist Dave McKean, whose work has graced many an album cover, magazine cover and whatever else cover, it's going to look a little different. The closest I can think is the animation work of Jan Svankmejer, but this is far more organic. And I want some of these models! The character design here is unparallelled.

The story is a dark fantasy adventure, with a fifteen year old female juggler trapped in a dream trying to discover a charm to save a queen and restore balance to a world. It might look and sound completely awesome but there's plenty going on behind the visuals and sound. I'm sure it'll take a few viewings to really come to appreciate properly everything that's going on here.

21 year old Stephanie Leonidas is the lead and she has talent way beyond your years. She's better than any Alice I've ever seen in various Wonderlands. I know a few of the others, though not in the forms they appear in here. There's Robert Llewellyn, better known as Kryten from Red Dwarf; along with comedians Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry.

The Divorcee (1930) Robert Z Leonard

This is the film that won Norma Shearer the Best Actress Oscar, back when she was married to Irving Thalberg, the man who has been associated with the word 'wunderkind' more times than anyone else I've ever come across. I often wondered if this was a classic example of early industry nepotism, but Shearer does do a very good job indeed here. She can really seethe, for one thing.

Norma plays Jerry, who marries Ted, but Ted finds himself a girl on the side. Jerry finds out on their third wedding anniversary and is upset but ends up evening the score by Ted's best friend Don. When she tells Ted, Ted goes nuts and through traditional male double standards Jerry is soon an ex-wife. Eventually she meets up with Paul who was jealous of Ted from moment one. Yeah, it's a melodrama.

Ted is Chester Morris who I also know from a couple of other films from the same year: the prison drama The Big House with Wallace Beery and the wonderful The Bat Whispers, but who is probably best known as the safecracker turned detective Boston Blackie who he played in fourteen films and then continued on radio. He had one of those manly thirties profiles that always looked artificial to me, like that of Richard Dix, and the camera takes every opportunity to show it off. Don is Robert Montgomery who plays exactly the same sort of role that young Robert Montgomery always did: bright, witty, irreverent, rich. The more I see his work, the more I see that he suffered from one of the worst cases of stereotyping for years. Jealous Paul is Conrad Nagel, who had a long silent career, including such films as The Kiss and The Thirteenth Chair. I haven't seen much of his sound work but he was great in the outrageous precode Kongo.

Pin (1988) Sandor Stern

Dr Linden has a anatomical dummy that he calls Pin. He uses it as you'd expect, as an educational tool, but he gives it a voice by ventriloquism. Unfortunately his son Leon develops an unhealthy fascination with the dummy, believing that he's real. As he obviously has issues, he has difficulty making friends and Pin becomes a replacement in his mind for everyone important in his life. He also provides both sides of the conversation himself just like Norman Bates and his mother.

Pin is a restrained and subtle horror movie that was quite a change from the standard eighties fare of serial monsters. It's based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman, who also wrote one of my favourite psychological horror novels of the era, Brainchild, and who went on to become The New Virginia Andrews. If the three leads (Stargate regular David Hewlett, soap opera icon Cyndy Preston and 'The Stepfather' Terry O'Quinn) weren't up to the job, the film would probably be a failure. Thankfully they're excellent and the film succeeds.

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) Sam Newfield

I've waited to see this for years and finally I get the chance, courtesy of a cheap DVD from Walgreens, of all things. It's the notorious all-midget western from 1938 featuring Jed Buell's Midgets, many of whom went on to be munchkins in The Wizard of Oz a year later. As the title reads, it's a rollickin', rootin', tootin', shootin' drama of the great outdoors, directed by Sam Newfield, veteran director of many B westerns.

And without midgets, it would have been exactly that: a B western because there really isn't much that's specifically written for the small cast. What there is is mainly played for humour, but the film isn't a comedy. There's even an introduction pointing out just how serious this film is, but then it heads straight into a song in a blacksmith's shop, where the blacksmith can hardly lift his hammer! This may be an all-midget cast but they aren't all-midget sets and props, little ponies notwithstanding.

The midget thing extends to the talent level of some of the cast. 'Little Billy' Rhodes is especially fine as the villain and Charles Becker (future Mayor of Munchkintown) is hilarious as the cook but some of the rest of the cast have little to offer (no pun intended) except their size. The hero is Billy Curtis, who was usually pretty obnoxious in his many film roles, and who ended up in some strange roles later in life such as a child ape in Planet of the Apes and the small version of the Thing. Curtis, heroine Yvonne Moray (the small Greta Garbo) and her rich uncle, Billy Platt, wouldn't have been out of place in a regular western.

Passport to Pimlico (1949) Henry Cornelius

Like many of my generation in England, I grew up watching a lot of classic English comedy, especially the Carry On films and the Ealing comedies. The Ealings are much harder to track down now but every time I find one I rediscover an old friend. Passport to Pimlico can be found in the Treeline Films box set Comedy Classics, unfortunately not in a great print but present nonetheless. On the other hand it is complete, which the American DVD release proper apparently isn't, by a good 14 minutes.

The plot is a classic one. Shortly after the war an unexploded German bomb gets triggered off and opens up a treasure cave underneath the streets of Pimlico. One piece of treasure is a royal proclamation ceding this part of Pimlico to the duchy of Burgundy and so nineteen families instantly become French. Naturally chaos ensues.

Ealing regular Stanley Holloway plays the lead and he's as great as he always was. Margaret Rutherford has never been less than awesome. Other regulars from English cinema are fun too: Hermione Baddeley, Michael Hordern, Charles Hawtrey, but everyone else keeps the side up. In fact there's just nothing bad about the film at all and it's always refreshing to discover that nostalgia isn't always misplaced.

The Front Page (1931) Lewis Milestone

In many ways the granddaddy of all newspaper pictures, of which there was a huge amount in the thirties and forties. The leads are Adolphe Menjou and a young Pat O'Brien, but there's also a massive cast as evidenced by the opening credits which seem to go on for ever. Notable names for me include Edward Everett Horton, Frank McHugh and Mae Clarke. The most important names of all though are Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur who wrote the original play in 1928, based on characters they knew personally in a Chicago newsroom.

This press room is full of reporters who make up stories more than report on them and they're waiting for an anarchist named Earl Williams to be hanged. The only real reporter is Hildy Johnson, played by Pat O'Brien, and he's trying to quit the business, escape to New York to get married and join the advertising profession. Adolphe Menjou gets surprisingly little screen time for someone nominated for an Oscar (along with director Lewis Milestone and the picture itself), but as editor Walter Burns naturally he's trying hard to keep his ace reporter on the staff. The story complicates when Williams escapes and Johnson stumbles onto him.

This is another movie in the Comedy Classics box set from Treeline Films, with poor sound, but I'm very welcome that I can get to see it at all. It's one of those massively influential films that are easy to read about but hard to get hold of to actually watch. It was remade three times, two of which were also important. Billy Wilder remade it in 1974 under the same title with Jack Lemmon as Johnson and Walter Matthau as Burns, but the most notable version is apparently the Howard Hawks remake with a gender twist. His Girl Friday has Cary Grant as Burns and Rosalind Russell as Johnson. This is one I'll get to see soon for the IMDb Project.

This one will be hard to follow though. Pat O'Brien defines the ace reporter role that I've already seen many blatant copies of, and the few scenes between him and Menjou are superb. Edward Everett Horton is wonderful and really makes the most of his part as a poetic hyperchondriac with OCD. Mae Clarke is famed for another appearance in 1931 where she had Jimmy Cagney's grapefruit mashed into her face, here she gets another solid scene where she jumps out of a window to save someone else. One of the reporters is apparently an uncredited Clark Gable, but I couldn't find him. Finally, there's those censored final words proving that you couldn't quite do everything in the pre-code days.

King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) Ishiro Honda

Just as the Americans took the original Gojira and turned it into Godzilla, King of the Monsters by adding in completely new footage with Raymond Burr, they also took Kingu Kongu tai Gojira and turned it into King Kong vs Godzilla by adding a ton of even more pointless extra footage. Just as they dubbed Gojira into English, they dubbed this one too but bizarrely even dubbed the American submarine crew who spoke in English anyway!

Apparently the Japanese version of this is way better than the American version, but that's not difficult to believe even with a really bad King Kong suit and some truly awful rear projection shots. The story has a pharmaceutical company discovering a berry, the juice of which is a powerful sedative. Unfortunately the only place it grows is on the island that is home to Kong. Naturally they take him back to civilisation but of course he escapes and heads off to Tokyo to fight Godzilla, who has been freed from a radioactive iceberg by that American sub.

Kong especially is really cheesy in this one. There are obvious homages to/ripoffs of the original and none of them really work at all. The only real benefit to this movie is that it's the first time either Kong or Godzilla could be seen in colour. Some of the fight at the end is cool but it's still a really bad entry in the series.

Alone in the Dark (2005) Uwe Boll

Oh, this one was going to be cheesy. This movie is so good that I started finding plotholes in the introductory text sequence before the credits. Uwe Boll, the only modern day director to truly be worthy of inheriting the mantle left behind by the awesomely bad filmmakers of yore, is back. He has three films in the bottom 21 of all time at IMDb: House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark and Bloodrayne. House of the Dead was awful, really awful, so it'll be interesting to see if this one will be any worse.

It has Christian Slater in it, which is a plus point for me if not for everybody else it seems, and he's still wearing the same coat he had in Heathers. He's a paranormal researcher who used to be a kid in a weird experiment whose fellows were dispersed many years before. Now he's investigating the Abkani, a mysterious Native American civilisation that disappeared ten thousand years ago after doing all sorts of stuff that we have no reason actually knowing about given that they're mysterious. Naturally the monsters get let loose (yes, there are monsters) and these former children all disappear and turn into zombies. And... no, I'm not even going to attempt to describe this plot which has nearly as many holes as House of the Dead and makes no sense at all. It's Alien meets Stargate meets Indiana Jones meets whatever else Uwe Boll watched last month.

That's the key word here: 'nearly'. It's really not good at all, but it's not as bad as House of the Dead by a good margin. There are some fun cool bits that make no real sense at all, but they remain fun cool bits. Stephen Dorff and Christian Slater do their best with the terrible material. In the end it's just another really bad film on a slightly lower level than Resident Evil: Apocalypse. It's not another House of the Dead, even if the last twenty minutes broke every law of physics known to man.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Robert Zemeckis

This film has what may just be the funniest line ever delivered on a movie screen: 'A toon killed his brother. Dropped a piano on his head.' Completely dead pan, it should be the saddest thing ever spoken but it's hilarious. It's Hollywood, 1947 and cartoon characters are real. It's an awesome concept, but it had to be done right for it to work at all. Luckily Zemeckis and Spielberg and everyone else involved in the film did it absolutely right.

What makes it really special is the work that went on to obtain the rights to a solid proportion of the great cartoon characters of history. There's Daffy Duck vs Donald Duck in a piano duel, Yosemite Sam, Droopy, Betty Boop, even the Singing Sword and the broomsticks from Fantasia. You name them, they're here, from Disney, Warners and MGM, including many you haven't heard of before. There's also Bob Hoskins playing the downbeat film noir detective perfectly and Christopher Lloyd in one of his best villain roles, even though he looks just like Malcolm McDowell for a good part of it.

Hoskins is Eddie Valiant, detective, who gets hired by the head of Maroon Cartoons to follow their star Roger Rabbit's gorgeous wife, Jessica. Soon Marvin Acme is dead and Roger is the chief suspect. Valiant, whose brother was killed by a toon, ends up working for another one to get to the bottom of the mystery.

What makes this viewing more special for me is that I understand more of the subtle gags than I did back in the day. I understand a lot more of the noir jokes for a start, the Harvey gag makes far more sense, I recognise the Veronica Lake peek-a-boo hairstyle and I can even start speculating about Baby Herman being a take on Harry Earles from The Unholy Three. Quite apart from the 40s noir, there's also a lot of thirties iconography here too and the thirties have been my real focus for the last year or so.

Pot o' Gold (1941) George Marshall

There shouldn't really be any surprises in a James Stewart movie that includes in the script the words 'good old home spun philosophy' but there are a few here. Jimmy is the owner of a music shop that does wonderful good for the community and is highly loved but makes him no money at all. His uncle is a rich businessman who can't understand anything except making money and he's about as hated by the community as anyone could be. Naturally the two of them clash when it comes to that home spun philosophy. That's no surprise, but this is a musical. That's a lot more surprising, even when I know that Jimmy Stewart wasn't really playing that harmonica. And it's not a standard musical either, with some of the most unusual musical numbers I've heard: one has Jimmy leading an army song in jail with only a harmonica and a bunch of shuffling feet as instrumentation. Another has twenty or so men accompanying their song with cutlery and glass harmonica.

Larceny, Inc (1942) Lloyd Bacon

I saw this a couple of years ago and it's sat a little uneasy with me. I rated it Poor and it's remained the lowest of my ratings for a growing number of Eddie G Robinson's films. I'm up to 27 of them now and the only two that came close to a Poor were a couple of really late films. All the early ones are Good or up. Now I was half asleep one night watching Larceny, Inc and I've long felt that I may have been unjustly harsh on the grounds of not being particularly with it. So I've waited quite a while for a second shot at it.

This time round I can see how quick the wit is and how much I probably missed it in a state of sleep. The jokes are really thick and fast and some of them are peaches. I also recognise a lot more people this time than last time round. I knew Eddie G and Jack Carson and Anthony Quinn of course, but now I know exactly who Edward Brophy, Jane Wyman and even Harry Davenport are from other notable performances. There's even an early and almost unrecognisable performance by Jackie Gleason. I'm not that fond of Broderick Crawford's performance because it's a little too dumb but Brophy gets much more of a role than usual and he makes the most of it. Robinson is sharp, Quinn is menacing and Jack Carson is especially solid as a salesman.

The lesson, I guess, is to watch films when I'm awake. This one's a good one.

Callaway Went Thataway (1951) Norman Panama & Melvin Frank

Callaway is a western hero from the glory days of pulp western serials, as long gone a concept as that of the singing cowboy and he's one of those too. In fact he's long gone when the film starts but he's got a new lease of life on TV where he has become the latest greatest thing. Unfortunately the TV people can't find the guy who played Callaway. Instead they hire a double but you can imagine how that goes.

I first heard about this one because it's on Clark Gable's filmography, but he's not the star this time. It's a Fred MacMurray film, he that most people know as a TV dad but I know from film noir. There's Dorothy McGuire too and Howard Keel too as both the real and the fake Callaway. He's the real reason this works, though the two leads are solid. One Callaway is a drunken womaniser and the other is the paragon of virtue that his character is supposed to be. Behind his dual roles, there's not really much at all. It appears far more fun and substantial than it really is.

Dream Wife (1953) Sidney Sheldon

Directed by Sidney Sheldon, of all people, this is a perfect example of how Hollywood doesn't have a clue how the rest of the world works but has fun with it anyway. Bukistan is an Arabian Knights sort of place where the locals are all played by Americans (Milwaukee born Eduard Franz as the Khan and Californian Betta St John as an exotic princess), but the Americans are all played by foreigners (Englishman Cary Grant as an American businessman and Scots born Deborah Kerr as an American diplomat). Go figure.

It's also the sort of place where women are brought up from birth to serve the every need of men and they have five thousand years worth of technique to bring to bear. How could an American businessman stay away, given that back home every woman is just trying to be a man? So naturally Grant proposes to the Bukistanian princess, not realising what he's going to get himself into. Because his previous fiancee Deborah Kerr speaks Bukistanian and works at the State Department she has to hang around at all times to translate both language and custom.

It's a dubious film. The men are male chauvinist pigs and the women are rude feminists: there aren't any real people in the entire movie. As the humour is built on that fact it becomes pretty dubious too. The only real pleasure outside of Betta St John's precursoring of Audrey Hepburn's innocence (and subsequent precursoring of her own future Tarzan movies) was when Grant and Kerr started being honest to each other. That's hardly a huge selling point. There's even a big fight scene but the best thing about it is an uncredited one line cameo from Kathleen Freeman. The fight is as ludicrous as the fact that Princess Tarji can learn English in about ten minutes. And much of the rest of the film.

The Street Fighter (1974) Shigehiro Ozawa

I don't know how much The Street Fighter woke everyone up in 1974 but it must have done plenty. The hero isn't really a hero, the fighting is brutal and the style is refreshingly new. I've been seeing x-ray shots of killer punches in a few films lately: this is where they came from. Sonny Chiba is young and looks like a cross between Bruce Lee and the guy who played Monkey in the TV series. It's good to see Sue Shiomi (Etsuko Shihomi) though she's uncredited.

What makes this new is Chiba and the way in which he works. Some scenes are total Bruce Lee impersonations but then he goes a step further and knocks out someone's teeth. People die in Sonny Chiba movies and not nicely either. There's spurting blood and torn throats and ripped out testicles. Chiba meant business and there's always this feeling that anything could happen. He's so unpredictable and dangerous.

I've seen this film before and the sequels and many other Chibas and Shiomis. I love them all. But this one, with all its overacting, still keeps its throne at the very top of his work. It may not be my favourite or even the best but it's the epitome of Sonny Chiba.

Return of the Street Fighter (1974) Shigehiro Ozawa

Terry Sugury is back and he's as mean as ever, taking out the vocal cords of a prisoner in police custody within the first few minutes of the film. Unfortunately there's a bunch of demonstration footage to teach us what all these fancy foreign weapons are and to give a few people the opportunity to show off their kata before . That does get in the way of the plot somewhat and it's more than a little annoying. At least the replacement for Ratnose is a little less annoying, though she could easily be to many. She's a weird hippy chick with a knitted hat and very strange horizontal ponytails.

This time he's up against the Mafia again who have some scheme going to make huge amounts of money out of a cultural centre. But none of that really matters. What matters is Sonny Chiba and the way he fights. Of course here we get to see him fight in striped underwear, pop someone's eyes out in a really bad special effect and perform a lot of miracles as far as speeding up and slowing down time.

The Street Fighter's Last Revenge (1974) Shigehiro Ozawa

My third Street Fighter in two nights and it really highlighted just how much the first is so much superior to the other two. This has far more plot than the last one, which is good, but not as much action and certainly nothing to compare to the original. It's something to do with tapes that describe a new technique for refining heroin and a lot of doublecrossing on the way to acquiring both.

It's good to see Sue Shiomi back but there's not much for her to do, unfortunately. Also the dubbing was noticeably bad compared to the other two, where it was surprisingly good. And we could have done without the James Bond touches, like the secret doors and the fake faces. I guess there was just too much influence from the wrong people when this one was put together, people who didn't understandthe draw of The Street Fighter. This would have been a much better film if only it wasn't supposed to be a Street Fighter movie.

Sh! The Octopus (1937) William McGann

How could I resist a 1937 Allen Jenkins movie called Sh! The Octopus? The octopus is supposedly the octopus of crime that the new police commissioner has sworn to fight, but there's a real octopus too, apparently, that is plaguing an old and disused lighthouse that has just been sold to a marine artist. There's a young lady whose father has been hanged at the top of this lighthouse that has no stairs. Her father has apparently created some radium ray or some such nonsense that will control the world. And there's also Captain Hook, who has a hook on his hand and a penchant for going nuts at the sound of a clock. No, I'm not kidding. And there are two inept detectives thrust into the middle of it all.

There are more bad jokes, and I mean really bad jokes, in this movie than any other film I can recall. They are so truly bad I found myself in stitches. Most of the fun here is working out what the punchlines are going to be before they arrive. Everyone knows that the script is complete nonsense but they're having so much fun with it that it really doesn't matter, especially Jenkins and Hugh Herbert as the two detectives.

There's an incredible special effect when the Octopus is unveiled and I seriously do not know how they did it. I watched it repeatedly frame by frame and couldn't work it out. If it was a 2006 movie I'd say it was really good CGI but this is 1937. Ain't no way, Jose.

Frankenstein (1910) J Searle Dawley

The more I delve into silent films and especially the further back in time I go, the more I wonder about the point at which filmmakers started working out how things should be done. It's easy to look at something from the twenties, for instance, and qualify any comments with 'but of course this was the twenties' as if nobody had a clue back then. The thing is that some people didn't have a clue but there are some seriously great pieces of cinematic art going way back further still.

This version of Frankenstein from the Edison company came out in 1910 so it's even easier to say 'but it was 1910 so just being able to focus the camera was awesome'. In reality that sort of thing was a breakthrough ten years earlier when the reality films were coming out in the States. No, not American Idol, but New York City Ghetto Fish Market. Yeah, gripping stuff. This has plot and acting and props and sets and storylines. But Frankenstein also has a lot more going for it than the Dorothy Dwan version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which came out the same year and even Ernst Lubitsch's The Eyes of the Mummy which came a whole eight years later. It has overacting but not excessively so and it follows ideas through and makes a reasonable attempt to cram the entire book into twelve minutes of screen time. There are some cool visuals, even if they don't always make sense, especially the creation of the monster which is framed like a magic trick. The monster isn't Karloff, by any means, but he's memorable.

However I've also seen some really inventive films from earlier than this. I've only seen one George Melies, A Trip to the Moon, but it shines over this from 1902, and eight years was a huge difference in time in the early days of cinema. Even Princess Nicotine from a year earlier, with its experiments in scale, has work that compares.

So trying to understand the era, this one's pretty good, but it could have been better.

Cat's Eye (1985) Lewis Teague

I've never been the world's biggest Stephen King fan, even though I spent much of my youth reading horror novels. I always felt he was too culturally American for my English tastes and that he waffled too much. But I have no doubt about how important he is as a writer and he came up with some cool ideas. Unluckily most of them were based on short stories rather than novels. Luckily this film is based on three of them.

There's James Woods who signs up to quit smoking only to find that Quitters, Inc is a derivative of Murder, Inc and they have some serious incentives to help him succeed. There's Robert Hays, proving that Airplane wasn't the only film he ever made, forced to walk around a high up ledge of a high up building to win a bet. And finally, there's Drew Barrymore who reappears throughout the film but especially in the last third as a young girl plagued by a little stop motion monster.

The stories don't have the same depth but none are bad. The best is certainly the first one: James Woods really carries unrelieved denial well and Alan King is great as the doctor who runs Quitters, Inc.

The Emperor's New Groove (2000) Mark Dindal

While this was originally intended to be a far more serious look at Meso-American life and turned into a complete joke, it's a damn funny joke! The folks at Disney did exactly what I've wanted them to do for years, namely strip out all the sappy songs and took some illogical humour from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. It has to be illogical to even attempt to deal with a plot like this: the self-centred Emperor Kuzco wants to build a water park as a birthday present to himself. He doesn't care that it'll mean knocking down an entire village and displacing a bunch of peasants led by Pacha. Then his chief advisor, Yzma, who is scary beyond reason, decides to kill him, with the aid of her idiot henchman Kronk. Unfortunately he bungles the poisoning and so Kuzco turns into a talking llama and ends up on Pacha's wagon heading back to the doomed village. And so it goes.

David Spade is without peer as a selfish talking llama and John Goodman, Eartha Kitt and Patrick Warburton are all superb in their roles. But that's not as important as the fact that I laugh more at this film than any other Disney film, even on my, cough, somethingth viewing. Unfortunately Disney went straight back to doing things like Atlantis and Treasure Planet and a bunch of sappy sequels. Here they revel in the insanity: at points it gives up entirely on logic and admits everything. There's serious stuff in there about being nice to people or something but it's mostly just about insanity. And that's so refreshing. And we can switch off the VCR when the end credits roll after an entire film without a song (excepting the very cool theme tune at the beginning done by Tom Jones) and so avoid the more traditionally sappy number by Sting at the end.

Thank goodness the original version tested badly. It was a musical Incan version of The Prince and the Pauper without comedy, insanity, talking llamas and with no less than six of those sappy Sting songs. Thank goodness that Sting turned down the theme tune because he felt he was too old. Naturally Tom Jones, notably older, was young and hip enough.

Kronk's New Groove (2005) Saul Andrew Blinkoff & Elliot M Bour

More of the same in many ways. This one shamelessly recycles a lot of the jokes from The Emperor's New Groove, but adds enough more to make it well worth it. There are a couple of stories. The first has Yzma cook up a youth potion so that Kronk, who has become a chef, can get a big house on a hill and a big thumbs up from Poppy. Kronk can't carry a film the way Kuzco could, but he gives it a good try. He does better in the second half, which has Kronk, chipmunk troop leader, lock horns with Birdwell, stereotypically English fellow troop leader. They tussle in competition but fall desperately in love in a movie spoof sequence.

The animation is as you'd expect from a modern Disney sequel, namely way less detailed or coloured or animated as the original, making it more like a long TV cartoon. Somehow it doesn't matter that much because Patrick Warburton is great as Kronk and everyone else keeps the side up, including Tracey Ullman as Kronk's love interest. On the downside there are more of those songs, though luckily not particular sappy ones.

Underworld (2003) Len Wiseman

As an explorer of the world of the horror novel from the time I was about ten, I've long searched for what I feel is a real war between vampires. I've never found it, though a couple of books came close. I've never even seen a hint of it in film until Underworld and I remember having a lot of hope in this one. As I recall it played pretty well for quite a while but couldn't live up to its promise in the end. Would I find the same second time round?

Well it certainly started very well indeed and there are some truly awesome scenes: a vampire leaping vertically up to clutch a high ceiling, a werewolf popping bullets out of his skull by sheer pressure and a neat sword trick at the end. The mythology is crafted pretty well, but some of the underlying plot structure is a little seethrough. Luckily there are some superb performances to bring it back up to scratch. Kate Beckinsale is certainly good and she gets to wear some very fetching leather outfits, but she's outshone by Bill Nighy who has got some great roles lately. Here he's a superb elder vampire who exudes power and respect, but he's great whatever he does, whether it be in Guest House Paradiso, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Shaun of the Dead. Michael Sheen is excellent as the werewolf leader but Shane Brolly is incredibly annoying as Kraven, the vampire Viktor has left in charge of things for the last few hundred years. I realise that he's supposed to be a whining little wuss, but he's just too damn good at it.

In the end I found more worth in Underworld second time around, and that's always a good sign.

Underworld: Evolution (2005) Len Wiseman

Starting as the first one finished, this one has many more awesome set pieces than its predecessor and a solid background to flesh it all out. The story turns into something a lot more simple than it should be and I have a lot of problems with some of the logic, but overall I was impressed again and that surprises me.

The cast of the first return, even if they ended up dead, and that's refreshing too. Kate Beckinsale brings a little depth to the cute lass who can kick our ass role and Scott Speedman is adequate, if a little forgettable, in the love interest position. Most notable is Tony Curran as Markus, the oldest vampire, who gets to do some seriously cool stuff with a pair of wings. I've seen him before as the Invisible Man in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen which had some good acting even if the film totally lost the plot courtesy of Sean Connery's fiddling. Luckily there was nobody to fiddle with Len Wiseman's vision for the two Underworld movies and I'm intrigued to see what he can do with what would be otherwise an pointless Die Hard 4.

Time Bandits (1981) Terry Gilliam

This is far from new to me. I've seen it a number of times and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Time Bandits is one of the true marvels of cinema. It's a comedy, it's a fantasy, it's a coming of age story, it's a war film, it's a historical drama, it's a religious epic, it's everything there is all wrapped into one movie. One young boy gets caught up with a bunch of dwarves (six not seven) who work for God who have stolen his maps of the holes of creation and are busy chasing round stealing riches from the great men of history. Something like this, where we can discover that Napoleon invaded Italy because he thought it was full of short people, could only come from the fertile brain of Terry Gilliam.

The script by Gilliam and fellow Python Michael Palin is a sheer joy and they assemble an incredible cast. Ian Holm is a revelation as Napoleon Bonaparte and I find it difficult to believe anyone else in the part, even when it's supposed to be serious. John Cleese has the same effect on Robin Hood. How can we believe Kevin Costner when we've seen John Cleese? You're a robber, eh? Jolly good! Jolly good! Then again, how could we believe Kevin Costner anyway. The character of King Agamemnon was designed to look something like Sean Connery and then Connery read the script and took the part and made it his own. And then there's Michael Palin, Shelley Duvall, David Warner, Peter Vaughan, Katherine Helmond and even Sir Ralph Richardson as an absent-minded God.

The midgets are all absolutely wonderful, so good that we forget that they're actually midgets. David Rappaport is the leader and he steals so many scenes it's unreal. Kenny Baker is best known for playing R2-D2 in all six Star Wars movies, but he's Fidget here and he gets the chance to act outside a metal box.

Witchfinder General (1968) Michael Reeves

Michael Reeves is a name that still resonates whenever British horror films are discussed, but he died only a year after making Witchfinder General with only three films to his credit as a director. They were powerful ones, though, or so I'm told. I haven't seen any of them yet and this one has been a notable absence from my viewing resume. Thankfully that's not the case any more.

It's a little upsetting that what promised to be an anamorphic widescreen DVD came out fullscreen, but at least I've got to see the film. Vincent Price is more restrained than usual, apparently at Reeves's request, and it helped to provide a stunning performance. I know some of the other names here, such as Ian Ogilvy, Patrick Widmark (as Cromwell) and Wilfred Brambell of all people. I know him of course from Steptoe and Son and it seems strange to see him in a horror movie.

I've always heard that it was a video nasty but it didn't seem as bad as I was expecting. It does have a nasty tone and this is 1968 after all, but there was much worse coming out of Europe.

King Kong (2005) Peter Jackson

Of all the films released in the last few years, this is the one I've wanted to see most. Good Taste, the documentary about the making of Bad Taste, Jackson's debut film, talked a lot about his early days and just why he got into the movie business. From that footage it's obvious that he's wanted to remake King Kong since he was about ten years old. After the huge success of the Lord of the Rings films, he could write any ticket he liked in Hollywood and it was always going to be this one.

I've heard a lot of people saying how awesome it is and I've heard a lot of people saying how much it sucks. Even ten or twenty minutes in, it was obvious why a good portion of the modern demographic didn't like it. There's a lot of odd jokes and references here that I wouldn't have got myself a couple of years ago. There's much more than the Sumatran Rat Monkey joke (from Jackson's Brain Dead). I now understand the connotations behind the references to Universal and Fay and Heart of Darkness and more. I also understand why it takes an hour to get to Skull Island: while it may not seem like it, that hour is not wasted at all. Jackson builds up characters in a manner unheard of in modern cinema and brings in plenty of tension to boot. All the background to the state of theatre in thirties New York is important and it only serves to build the movie.

And then there are the effects. Nobody but nobody is doing this like Jackson. The landscapes he plays with are nothing short of amazing and the action he puts into those landscapes is incredible. The simply isn't anyone who can touch what Jackson did with the dinosaur stampede. Jurassic Park is now officially a bland kids movie with no imagination. Well I knew that anyway but now it's obvious. Kong has more character in this film than any other monster movie ever and even more than anyone else who was in Jurassic Park! After all, Jackson fully understands that Kong was never a monster anyway.

A true marvel for the 21st century. Even Jack Black was great and I've never seen him act before. Sure he's a funny, but he acts here. Naomi Watts is superb and Kong himself is so well done that he ought to have won the Oscar. And yes, Andy Serkis was there again doing the moves.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004) Hayao Miyazaki

Miyazaki does it again. Every time I see a Miyazaki movie I wonder why nobody else does what he does. That's the real beauty of it: it has depth and character and style and substance and story (remember story?) and everything else it should have, and he makes it seem like it grew, it's the only way it could be. And yet if it was that easy everybody else would be making films this wonderful. Wouldn't they?

The Howl of the title is a wizard, much in demand by the powers that be, especially in wartime. He has a really cool patchwork castle that walks on legs and has a door that opens onto different storefronts in different cities. There's a young assistant and a fire that talks, and yes that's a fire not a fireplace. In comes our heroine, a ninety year old girl who is really young but who has been turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. There are a lot of characters in here and there's a lot of story. Most of the people in the film either aren't who they think they are or who they say they are and it's a joy discovering their stories.

The only downside is that he only makes a movie every three or four years or so and that means we have to really wait for the next one.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) James Sibley Watson Jr

This is an odd little film that works mostly because it's so unique. It's a vague take on Poe's House of Usher, made as a silent short with no title cards, meaning that you really have to have at least some idea of the story before starting out. Without dialogue, it's easy to see that the visuals are everything and they're rather stunning, especially for 1928. While some things are obviously influenced by German films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, others appear to be highly innovative. There's slow motion footage, both forward and reverse, use of miniatures and animation of text as a substitution for sound. There's movement of the camera in strange ways, such as rotation and kaleidoscopic effects to infer disorientation. All in all, it's an eye opening and very satisfying twelve minutes.

Unfortunately it's a short made by independent amateurs, though the names involved, like unorthodox poet e e cummings, are well known in other fields, and another version of the House of Usher story was released in the same year. That is a French version, made by a man named Jean Epstein but with major avant garde names like Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali heavily involved. The French movie has rather overshadowed this far more obscure version, and I'm now highly intrigued to see how valid its reputation is.

The Outlaw (1943) Howard Hughes

We're in Lincoln, New Mexico, and the sheriff of Lincoln County is one Pat Garrett. Not only that but his buddy Doc Holliday just got off the stagecoach to find that Billy the Kid stole his horse. Some major names, huh, especially as they're played by Thomas Mitchell, Walter Huston and some guy called Jack Beutel who did very little except this. There's also Howard Hughes as producer and director, Gregg Toland as cinematographer and of course that in famous brass bra that the smouldering Jane Russell gets to wear. So definitely major names, with the exception of Beutel.

Unfortunately we start out with some really bad western fight choreography indeed when Pat deals with a drunk and then shows its stripes as an unintentional comedy. There's some great stuff but it's intermingled with some serious crud. The music especially is stunningly overdone and it's from the only thing that's overdone. These great actors chew up every piece of scenery they can find, especially Walter Huston who had a couple of decent scenes early on but then turned into a joke. It's really a toss up for who the best actor is: either Jane Russell's breasts or the roan horse that is obviously ashamed to be in the film at all. In fact a good portion ends up unintentially hilarious, including the entire last third of the movie. My ribs were hurting by the end of it but my lass was wracked with laughter so hard she nearly fell off the couch!

If it wasn't for Bela Lugosi's The Ape Man this would be currently listed as my worst film for 1943, but it comes amazingly close. Everybody who worked in this should be ashamed of themselves, most of all Jules Furthman who wrote the screenplay and Howard Hughes whose baby the whole thing really was. The sad thing is that I think half the cast knew it at the time.

The Bone Snatcher (2003) Jason Wulfsohn

This one looked interesting: a South African horror film set in the Namib desert. The back of the DVD suggested that the filmmakers took the scarab beetles from the Brendan Fraser version of The Mummy and turned them into an entire film. What we have is a bunch of South African miners getting attacked by something they unwittingly free from its desert captivity and a bunch of miners who find their skeletal remains. There's also some really cool desert landscapes; a really cool five second fight that is very refreshing with the current WWE mentality that Hollywood seems to have taken on; and a lot of intriguing local flavour. Maybe that flavour is what made the movie feel very Australian, which is no bad thing for a low budget movie, though there were differences that were sometimes hard to pinpoint. Unfortunately while I enjoyed where it went, it didn't really go anywhere.

The worst thing was the fact that the voices were almost lost in the mix. It made it often hard to understand the dialogue, especially as the accents were thick.

The Confederate Ironclad (1912) Kenean Buel

The Treasures from American Film Archives box set is proving to be one of my best purchases and I still haven't worked my way throughout disc one of four yet. This is one of a slew of Civil War movies made while the fiftieth anniversary memorials were frequent, and it makes good use of renactment props. What's most notable is the story, as southern theatre owners were apparently getting upset at all the pro-yankee films. Guy Coombs is the star and he's a southerner. Anna Q Nilsson is a northern spy who infiltrates his reserve and causes no end of havoc to the south. And that's serious havoc: bridges blown up and southerners killed in major numbers. Yet at the end the good Southern lead lets the poor misguided spy go. Definitely a strange take on things.

Death Race 2000 (1975) Paul Bartel

If there was ever a film that was destined for cult status, it's this one. It's a Roger Corman production, though not directed by him, and stars David Carradine (in black leather mask no less), a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone, Warhol Factory regular Mary Woronov, Gopher from The Love Boat, Martin Kove, DJ The Real Don Steele and others. It's a road movie, a scifi movie, an adventure movie, a sports movie, it's an everything movie really, and it has no taste. As the tagline goes, hit and run is no longer illegal, it's the national sport! This is a transatlantic road race where Frankenstein and Machine Gun Joe and the others score extra points for killing people on the way.

You can imagine the rest if you have a sick enough sense of humour, which is played up with camp joy. The doctors at an old folks home wheel the geriatrics out onto the road on Euthanasia Day, but Frankenstein, who surely worked as a template for Darth Vader with his black mask and cape, diverts slightly to wipe out the doctors instead! Every character from the racers to Mr President to the commentators is turned up to the extreme. There's more overacting in this film than in any other film I think I've ever seen, but there's a massive amount of social comment in there too. As over the top as it is, there's always that slight possibility that it might just come true. Some of it already has, of course, such as the 'blame it all on the French' excuse and the culture of violence. We give you what you want!

And being a Corman film from the seventies, it's not just black humour but violence, bloodshed, nudity and every other component of a fine cult film. It's certainly hard to top.

The Cat and the Canary (1927) Paul Leni

Recently restored from the original acetates, this print of The Cat and the Canary is very nice indeed. I've seen a lot of silent movies lately that are patchwork affairs, from different reels of film that have aged or weathered differently, different parts from from different collections and even from different media formats. Time is a dangerous thing to culture and it's helped me become more and more interested in film preservation of late. This print, however, is consistent and pretty crisp.

The film itself is a mystery and a horror film rolled into one, of the old dark house variety a few years before the film of that name came along. It's from Universal, naturally, the home of all the great horror films of the golden age, and it has all the elements you'd expect from eighty subsequent years of milking them until they become nothing but cliches. Quite apart from the clever use of light and shadow, frame composition and double exposure, there are old chestnuts like emaciated hands appearing out of sliding bookcases, dead bodies falling out of hidden panels and an escaped lunatic roaming the grounds. As such it's hard to really judge this one on its merits. It's a film like The Bat Whispers that could only really be appreciated properly at the time, but which with some allowances can still hold strong today.

The canary of the title refers to old Cyrus West, an eccentric millionaire, and the cats are his relatives who have almost driven him crazy. He leaves a will to be read in his creepy turretted mansion twenty years after his death. His relatives congregate to discover that he's left everything to his most distant relative who carries his name. This is Annabelle West, one of the few who are actually nice. She has wide eyes and a pretty face and of course once the family realise that if she's judged insane by a doctor that very night somebody else will get the fortune. Naturally she becomes the canary and the cats go about their business.

Laura La Plante is the tormented lady and Creighton Hale is the almost Harold Lloyd-like coward who's really a good guy at heart. I've seen him play bit parts over the years in a lot of classic films without really noticing him: as reporters, stenographers or customers in films like Casablanca, The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon. Tully Marshall has a role too and again, he's a name I see without really knowing who he is. I guess that's something that will fix over time. I'll remember Creighton Hale the way he is here though: highly skittish. There's a really memorable shot of him under a bed framed in darkness but with the light playing off his round glasses. It reminded me of Elijah Wood in Sin City hunting his prey. The housekeeper is notable too and her stern outlook she reminded me of Margaret Hamilton.

In the end this is a dated but enjoyable little chiller, aided nicely by a new and very appropriate score with theremin, but I'm sure it was pretty awesome in 1927.


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